Your Low-Key Guide to Cairo’s Quietest Watering Holes
Why suffer the wrath of every “DJ” and underage club rat out there when you can peacefully nip over to any of these establishments for a drink and a think?
Far be it for us of all people to come up with a considerate little compendium of some of Cairo’s more hushed adult establishments; but whether you’d like to believe it or not, we generally tend to look for dark, quiet corners where light is a minority, and where alcohol flows serenely without the audibly ill tinge of house music or millennial selfies.
Thing is, it’s hard as shit finding a place where you can gingerly nurse a beer and hear yourself think all at the same time. We don’t have a whole hell of a lot of that O’ShaugheMcLaughnahanaman’s corner pub mentality that our brothers from whiter mothers have across the pond, but some examples do exist - or at the very least, something similar.
Gentle disclaimer: this humble collection of sin parlours isn’t for a sponsorship deal, neither is it a thorough review of each venue. It’s just an informative guide of sorts so you can find a quiet corner to sulk and/or drink. Oh and if you go on the weekends, expect more noise than you bargained for.
Look, Dalia, you don’t always have to resort to those niche modern bars your friends always yank you out to. Maybe what you truly need every now and then is a stealthy sip at an establishment ripped straight from every bar in the Cornetto Trilogy (Simon Peg is a role model). Why hightail it all the way to the UK when you can just nip on over to Harry’s Pub at the Marriot in Zamalek? You’ll often find this place only somewhat populous at worst, and most times, it’s a quiet, elegant affair. The interior is unlike anything you could expect at similar establishments in Cairo; it’s legit Portobello Road from fucking Marry Poppins. It uses so little space in such an innately English way that you could swear a pint of Guinness materialised in your simple hands as soon as you set your wellies on its stylishly carpeted floor. Bartenders are pretty laid back, drinks are cold and nostalgic, and they even have fancy fish and chips, what the hell else would you want with your calm, cool beer? Obviously the weekends are liable to go tits up (English Slang brought to you by ColonialismTM), so use your best judgement on when to tuck into a bacon and egg pie with your Knob Creek in solace.
Perfect for: reenacting your favourite episode of Cheers.
Not the best for: reenacting the bar fight from Kingsman.
Very few things on this mortal plane of existence can one-up a somber drop at a cosily silent pub. Chief of which, in our humble opinion, is bringing out your inner Alan Quatermain (not Sean Connery) and sipping your brandy amidst prime examples of British colonialism; antler trophies adorning rustic walls, entirely wooden furnishings (barrel seats yo) and the calm, collected mood of an early 1900’s officer’s club (which it was back in WW1). Walking into the Windsor is more like walking into a time machine and going back to a time when pubs were pubs, not places to take your underage date to. The whole place is massive, almost eerily so, and you’ll hardly find more than a handful of people at a time, conversing in hushed tones and enjoying a decent cocktail or a beer, in stark contrast to what’s outside the place. The waiters and barmen keep to themselves, and are eager to leap over (much like what that pair of antlers used to do) to take your order, so you’re never at a loss for drinks. In a country where the concept of a gentlemanly calm watering hole is fleeting, places like the Windsor stand in stern defiance against the torrential rain of obnoxious clubs and “trendy” bars. Old-timey colonist hat and moustache highly recommended.
Perfect for: British imperialist role-play.
Not the best for: animal rights activists.
Arguably the first of its kind on the ritzy island of Zam, Don Quichotte (colloquially, Donkey Shot) is a family-run business that’s been surviving the ebb and flow of Cairo’s nightlife fluctuations ever since the late 70’s. Though it started life out as a humble little eatery, little by little, it succumbed to the bar scene, and happily so. The whole place (on weekdays you nerd) screams quiet from the second you waltz onto its street (thank you, Ahmed Heshmat), and once you get past the unassuming exterior, you’ll be greeted with a loyal handful of regulars that have been livening up the place for decades, the interior is warm and almost entirely decked out in authentic wood. The level of calm around the bar and the whole premise is innate, almost organic to the charming lighting and even more charming owners and servers. Like we said; loyalists frequent the Don, and they’re few ( Having a quiet drink all on your lonesome (or with your nihilistic friends) is all well and good, but getting a nice little side of nostalgia on the side? Priceless.
Perfect for: a lazy whiskey with your Zamalek sweetheart.
Not the best for: asking for a Donkey Punch.
Zamalek’s own Flamenco Hotel might look like your bog-standard temporary domicile, but apart from taking a particularly busy spot in the ever-bustling island, their in-house watering hole is anything but noisy, most days anyway. Carmen’s about as wide as you need it to be, which might sound bad to most, but to somebody who prefers a sombre drink in a strategically dimly-lit pub, it’s quite the opposite. The bartenders (Khaled is a king) usually mind their own business, and will offer up their ears if you feel like spilling the beans (not your drinks though, shameful that), and most hours of the day, it’s usually punctuated with light background music and the muffled conversations of a more reserved clientele. So if you find yourself stranded in the loud streets of Zam, nip over to Carmen and weather the storm with a beer or two in silence. Of course, if you go on weekends or special occasions, it’ll be a bit more packed than you’d want it to be but even when it’s busy, it’s a haven compared to the other, more frequented venues out there.
Perfect for: a chill Tuesday after-work beer with a lovely coworker.
Not so much for: avoiding running into people you may know.
Way back in the day, the more privileged among us had their own criteria for where to chill, and it wasn’t just anywhere either. Old money are much akin to old habits; they die hard, and they prefer to do it slowly and steadily with a quality at places like Five Bells. Though it’s more of an authentic Egyptian dining experience than it is a bar, Five Bells’ watering hole gets the same trimmings as the lush outdoor seating area; soft live piano music, professional (and sharply dressed) servers, and barmen that stick to what they do best; pour drinks and mind their own business. Since it’s more of a family-oriented venue and caters to expats more often than not, it’s almost always on silent side of things. You might have to make a reservation sometimes, especially if it’s more than just you going, but you’re guaranteed a smooth cognac and a gentle round of piano to soothe your busy head.
Perfect for: grabbing a drink with your father.
Not the best for: having a bar fight with your father.
Slightly bending the rules here but bear with us for a minute or three. The thing about Mermaid, at least to the writer of this article, is that you don’t even know it exists unless someone actually tells you to meet them there. It’s on Road 9 in Maadi, so to say that it has a lot to contend with to pop is an understatement at best. Once you’re able to find the little hidden treasure, you’ll find a delightful little Italian-themed restaurant that’s hardly ever crowded or annoying. The place is rather tight, and the seating is, in a word, intimate; tables are only a couple metres apart and the lighting is almost strategically dim, giving patrons one of the best settings for a quiet beer after work (or during if you feel like it). Though they don’t have an actual bar, they still serve alcohol, and the setting is way too cosy and calm to pass up. Given how Road 9 is a hellish stretch of consumerism and decibels, a port in the storm is always welcome (get it? Cause Mermaid? Ha Ha). Besides, it never hurts to have a quality bite to eat with your silent boozing.
Perfect for: a Tinder date.
Not the best: two Tinder dates.
Hold your tongue right where it is, Dalia; we are fully aware of how obnoxiously loud and uncomfortable the Deals bars in Heliopolis and Zamalek are (it’s literally part of our job). But whether you choose to believe it or not, Deals in Mohandessin (the one that isn’t at the Swiss Inn) is surprisingly tame and quiet for what the hell it is. It still has that charming Deals aesthetic; darkness, blue and gold lights, walls adorned with all manner of newspaper clippings and framed pictures of who-knows-who, but since the place is so huge, and very few people know the place even exists, you’ll often find yourself unsettlingly cut off from the rest of civilization. Perfect for a stealthy drink away from the auspices of the world, Deals also has a pool table, darts, alcohol and even more alcohol for any would-be patron. In addition, their finger foods make a great pairing with your JD, but this list isn’t about that; it’s about the hush-hush factor, and Deals Mohandessin ranks pretty well in that regard. Take your one speechless friend and make it a quiet, almost dead date with a pair of fine drinks courtesy of the top-notch service Deals the country over is known for.
Perfect for: not making any noises, goddammit.
Not the best because: it's Deals.
The Cairo Cellar
See, it’s of the utmost importance that your business’s label or brand adequately reflects what your business is all about. This is something the folks over at The Cellar took a bit too close to heart; situated in a literal cellar in Zamalek, Cellar, on the surface (is it still a cellar if it is?), looks like it should smell particularly damp, but it doesn’t. It’s delightfully dark and dim with the lighting, caters to an older, more dedicated patronage than your average pub, and the aesthetic is decidedly grimy (again, a literal cellar). Are we turning you off? Of course we’re not; why else would you come to an article like this if that exact setting wasn’t yours? Cellar is quite the whimsical place to have a drop of the good stuff (or the meh stuff) in serene tranquillity, it’s also narrow and quite packed, but it makes up for most of its shortcomings with gorgeous (and real) wooden furniture. The bartenders are helpful enough, but you’ll likely get sluggish service if you’re not a regular, they prefer the familiar to the fresh, but why would you care? You have all the patience in the world at this point.
Perfect for: IT'S A FUCKING CELLAR.
Not the best for: claustrophobes.
Though not as retro or as baladi as some of the other bars on this list, Bistro has its own quiet charm. Split into two sections, the place has some of the fanciest and attractive dishes this side of the Nile, but the bar section is where all the calm lamentation is. It’s, again, decidedly dim with the lighting, with the vast swathes of darkness cut apart by the stylish glare of Neon lights. Oftentimes, you’ll only find yourself, some other serene soul and more staff than there are customers (and that’s not a bad thing). Contrast makes another appearance here; Huda Al Shaarawy street isn’t known for being a quiet part of Downtown, and yet, when you waltz into Bistro’s sin parlour, it flips a sharp 180 owing to its somewhat distant and sunken location beneath street level. You’ll only find like five tables at most, and it’s a bit difficult to deftly maneuver around the cramped layout, but for the pretend-bougie in you who wants a more refined version of Horreya, Bistro is your hole-to-be.
Perfect for: pretending you're too good for Horreya.
Not the best for: people who hate Downtown with a fervent passion.
Ah yes, Lotus. Who could ever realistically start a pub crawl in the greater Downtown area or even just thinking about a quick and cosy beer without Lotus’s rooftop charm crossing their minds? Legitimately speaking though, Lotus is cramped as all hell; there’s a balcony made for a maximum of three people (you can risk a fourth if you want) and the inside seats like four or five folks, so the whole place, including the bartender, can never plausibly take more than 10 people. They only serve beer, Stella beer to be exact, and unless you’re going with a bunch of friends, you’ll likely find yourself all alone, just you and your beverage of circumstance, with all the calm you’ll ever need to formulate where to go next once you’ve had your fill of silent, drunken penance.
Perfect for: impoverished nostalgia junkies.
Not the best for: more than four people.
Honorable Mention: Dragon House
We made this thing not to show people where to have a ritzy cocktail amidst local celebrities and upper class ingénues, but to guide them to places out there where alcohol and silence come together in harmony. Case in point, Dragon House isn’t exactly a lush venue, however, it’s one of the cleaner dives we have here in Cairo (Helwan if you’re that anal). Dragon house is a minimalist little hideout a few steps above the Chinese eatery of the same name. Everything in it is low-key; low-key seating, low-key bathrooms and even the bartenders (we love you Michael and Peter) keep to themselves, and are very handy. The drinks aren’t exactly varied and you won’t find master mixologists behind the counter, but hardly anybody dawns on their doorstep most hours of the day, most days of the week, and that’s not a negative here. Yes, sometimes it’ll be crowded, but even then, it’s a lot more reserved than the rest of the options out there. One of the most special (and contradictory) things about the place is its proximity to the metro; oftentimes the whole place will look and sound like a grimy bar scene from a New York action flick, rattling the furniture and giving you the perfect background music to a puff of a cigarette.
Perfect for: trying to forget how you can't afford a better bar.
Not the best because: it's basically "Baby's First Bar."
Be wary of the younglings though; as soon as any bunch of raucous youths walk in and see a serene landscape, they’ll probably take it as an invitation to usurp whatever quiet solace there was. So maybe have a talk with the bartender about the noise if you’re tight enough.
This list is an ever-evolving endeavour; meaning that it’ll be updated every now and then to keep up with the least overt bars, pubs and quiet corners of the “Cairohol.” So maybe keep us in your bookmarks or store us somewhere safe, hold our hair back when we vomit, maybe even tuck us into bed? Anything really.